Microbiology Theory

Media Preparation

Microrganisms need nutrients, a source of energy and certain environmental conditions in order to grow and reproduce. In the environment, microbes have adapted to the habitats most suitable for their needs, in the laboratory, however, these requirements must be met by a culture medium. This is basically an aqueous solution to which all the necessary nutrients have been added. Depending on the type and combination of nutrients, different categories of media can be made.


Complex media are rich in nutrients, they contain water soluble extracts of plant or animal tissue (e.g., enzymatically digested animal proteins such as peptone and tryptone). Usually a sugar, often glucose is added to serve as the main carbon and energy source. The combination of extracts and sugar creates a medium which is rich in minerals and organic nutrients, but since the exact composition is unknown, the medium is called complex.

Defined media are media composed of pure ingredients in carefully measured concentrations dissolved in double distilled water i.e., the exact chemical composition of the medium is known. Typically, they contain a simple sugar as the carbon and energy source, an inorganic nitrogen source, various mineral salts and if necessary growth factors (purified amino acids, vitamins, purines and pyrimidines).

Selective/differential media are media based on either of the two categories above supplemented with growth-promoting or growth-inhibiting additives. The additives may be species- or organism-selective (e.g., a specific substrate, or an inhibitor such as cyclohexamide (artidione) which inhibits all eucaryotic growth and is typically used to prevent fungal growth in mixed cultures).

Media Purpose
Complex Grow most heterotrophic organisms
Defined Grow specific heterotrophs and are often mandatory for chemoautotrophs, photoautotrophs and for microbiological assays
Selective Suppress unwanted microbes, or encourage desired microbes
Distinguish colonies of specific microbes from others
Enrichment Simlar to selective media but designed to increase the numbers of desired microorganisms to a detectable level without stimulating the rest of the bacterial population
Reducing Growth of obligate anaerobes

The mixture of necessary nutrients can be used as a liquid medium, or a solidifying agent can be added. "Agar agar" is a natural polysaccharide produced by marine algae and is the most commonly used solidifying agent added to media (end concentration usually 1.5 % w/v). If hydrolysis of the agar is suspected, a silica gel is used as a replacement solidifying agent.

Protein Hydrolysates:

Complex media contain often protein hydrolysate which are are excellent natural sources of amino acids, peptides and proteins in growth media. It is the most important source for nitrogenous nutrients. They are most often obtained by enzymatic digestion or acid hydrolysis of natural products, such as animal tissues, milk, plants or microbial cultures. The number of available protein hydrolsate, also called peptones, is enormous and can promote and sustain the growth of most common organisms. For the enzymatic digestion often papain, pepsin, trypsin or a mixture of enzymes of the pancreatic juice are taken. Below is a list of often used expressions and the definitions.

Term Explanation
Trypic digested Protein hydrolysate was produced by protein digestion with  trypsin
Peptic digested Protein was digested by pepsin
Pancreatic digested
Protein was digested by a mixture of enzymes of the pancreatic juice
Proteose Peptonet A mixed enzymatically digestion of meat proteins. It is rich in peptides with the higher molecular weight.
Tryptone Casein which was tryptic digested
Tryptose/Tryplose A mixed enzymatically digestion of animal proteins. The digest conditions are such that it contains many different peptides including those of higher molecular weight (proteoses).


Aseptic Techniques:

Before inoculation with the desired microorganisms,eat. Due to the toxicity of the chemicals used, this is not the most popular form of sterilisation. Chemicals employed include: gaseous ethylene oxide, which alkylates amino, sulfhydryl, carboxyl and hydroxyl groups of microbial cell compounds; formaldehyde, used as a fumigant; and hydrogen peroxide vapour used in aseptic packaging.

Employed for heat-sensitive materials and for environmental samples such as soil and sediment where structural changes caused by heat need to be avoided. Two forms of radiation are used:

Initiates the excitation of atoms which in nucleic acids leads to fatal mutations. UV light cannot penetrate materials so is used mainly for surface treatments e.g. Iaminar flow benches, and air and water.

Ionizing Radiation
Can penetrate samples, causing ionization within cells. Gamma radiation generated through a 60Co a-source is used to sterilise complex matrices such as soil and foodstuff. Microorganisms show increased resistance to radiation under anoxic conditions (2-5x) and also in frozen samples.

Filtration sterilisation operates through the exclusion rather than destruction of microorganisms. It is safe for the user and is employed for sensitive liquids and gases. Three types of filters are currently in use:

Depth Filters
These are made of columns packed with fibrous materials such as glass wool or cotton wool. The twisting and turning fibres entrap particles and so act as filters; they show little resistance to flow and are used mainly for gases or as pre-filters for membrane filters which are easily clogged.

Membrane Filters
Act by screening out particles. Their effectiveness depends on the size of the membrane pores and the electrostatic attractions present. The most commonly used filters in microbiology are usually made of cellulose acetate or cellulose nitrate.
Size of filter pores required to screen out:
Yeast 0.45 -1.2 µm
Bacteria 0.2 µm
Viruses and mycoplasmas 0.01-0.1µm
Membrane filtration is usually employed for heat-sensitive substances, e.g. vitamin solutions; the filters are heat-sterilised before use.

Nucleation Track (Nuclepore) Filters
These filters consist of very thin polycarbonate films which have been treated with nuclear radiation and then etched with a chemical to create very uniform vertical holes. They are employed for the same material as membrane filters but have the disadvantage that they are more easily clogged.

Media Supplements
Table of the most commonly used Media Supplements, Methods of Sterilisation, Solubilities


Substance Solubility in Water at 25°C Comments/Sterilisation

2.1 g/100 ml Destroyed by boiling in aqueous solution at pH 7 for 1 hr.
Filter sterilise
L(+)-Arabinose 1 g/1 ml  
Arginine* 15 g/100 ml Sat. solution bly alkaline, absorbs CO2 pK1, 2.18 pK2 9.09 pK3 13.2
Asparagine* 2.16 g/100 ml Stable in aq sol. at 100°C, hydrolysed in acidic solutions
Biotin 22 mg/100 ml pH of 0.01% sol. = 4.5
acidic solutions can be heat-sterilised
Cysteine* soluble Neutral slightly alkaline solution is oxidised to cystine pK1,
1.71 pK2   8.33 pK3 10.78
Dextrin soluble in 3 parts boiling water  
Ehrlichs reagent Fructose soluble
Fuchsin 1 g/7 ml  
Galactose   a) soluble in 0.5 parts water, freely soluble in hot water
b) soluble in 1.7 parts water at 17°C
Glucose 1 g/1 ml pH of 0.5 M aq solution = 5.9
Glycerol miscible  
Glycogen soluble with opalescence
Lactose 21.6 g/100 ml a) 1 g/5 ml
b) 1 g/2.2 ml at 15°C
Maltose soluble mp 102-103°C
Mannitol soluble  
Niacin soluble Stable to autoclaving at 120°C for 20 mins
Ornithine* soluble Aqueous solution alkaline pK, 1.94 pK2 8.65 pK3 10.76
Phenylalanine*   L 29.6 g/L at 25°C
D 1 g/35.5ml at 16°C
DL 14.11 g/L at 25°C
pK1 2.58 pK2 9.24
Resazurine insoluble in water
soluble in dil alkali hydroxides
0.1 g in 20ml 1 N NaOH + water up to 500 ml
pH 3.8 = orange, pH 6.5 dark violet
Ribose soluble  
Citric acid soluble 59.2 % at 20°C pH of 0.1 N solution = 2.2
Sorbitol soluble Up to83% mp 100/112°C
Starch insoluble  
Sucrose 1g/0.5ml  
EDTA (disodium salt) soluble Used to complex iron in media
EDTA (acid) insoluble  


All stock solutions of amino acids can be autoclaved at 120°C for 20 mins.

Interaction of Media Components

When undertaking research where medium composition plays an important role, e.g. toxicity studies, care must be taken to observe the various interactions which can take place between media components, for example;

Yeast, peptone and
amino acids
Bind large amounts of divalent Hg, Pb, Ag and Cu ions
Glucose exhibits non-selective metal binding which can cause metal deficiency of essential ions or decrease
the toxicity of toxic ions.
EDTA chelates essential trace metals causing deficiency; the effect can be reversed by the addition of
other metals e.g. Cu and Fe.
NaCI increases Zn toxicity (formation of a Zn-chloro complex), decreases Cd toxicity.
Agar in solid medium, Sn toxicity increases (formation of a soluble toxic tinagar complex).
Silica gel decreases toxicity of Sn, Cd, Pb, Ni and Zn divalent ions.
Phosphate precipitation* of insoluble phosphates decreasing toxicity of toxic ions
  (e.g Cd and Pb) or causing deficiency of essential ions (e.g. Fe)
Carbonate precipitation of insoluble carbonates
decreased Pb toxicity
Citrate non-selective metal binding
Tris non-selective metal binding


* Can be avoided by addition of a HEPES buffer to reduce phosphate.